Tag Archives: Wii U

Breath of the Wild Extended Thoughts

Last week I aired out my initial thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Wii U.  I was eager to get those thoughts out in part to ease my own excitement.  But I also wanted to see how my thoughts after a few hours of playing would compare to my thoughts after dozens of hours.  Lots of reviewers have said Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda game of all time.  In a lot of ways I agree, but what makes a Zelda game a Zelda game?

This is the first truly open world Zelda since 1986.  Breath of the Wild is also different because there’s more space and something to find just about every few seconds.  You can basically skip the story entirely with enough determination.  Ocarina of TimeTwilight PrincessWind Waker…none of them have the same soul as Breath of the Wild.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Link looking out on Hyrule Field
Link looking out on Hyrule Field.

Breath of the Wild takes every ounce of 3D Zelda linearity and throws it out the window.  Instead of giving you a series of tasks, it gives you a few guidelines on what you’re doing.  Then it tells you to travel to every corner of the map.  And pick up eveything.  And take pictures of everything.

This is a massive change.  So massive that there’s really no point in comparing Breath of the Wild to any other Zelda games except for a few of the same basic tropes.  That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun with a game since Twilight Princess.

Every issue I’ve had with the game had ended up resolved, because a huge community has formed around this game already.  The fastest ways to get rupees, strategies for bosses, recipes, and interesting locations are turning up every day.  This game contains all the silliest, coolest, and most creative gameplay moments in all of Zelda.  It’s all thanks to this approach of giving the player several ways of approaching every situation.  The use of physics alone has hugely broadened the player’s input on how they experience the game. Breath of the Wild is a playground with a Zelda face on it.  In fact, if this game had completely different characters and equipment, it would be unrecognizable as Zelda.

I can see how this would rub lots of people the wrong way.  This game isn’t nearly as clean as other Zelda games.  It’s really difficult to work out early on, and breakable equipment means everything is fleeting.  You have to rely on your own wit more than in other Zelda games.  It’s a big change, as I said before, and change doesn’t always come easily.  Personally, though, I think this game is an escalation of an already great series.

Link pulling the Master Sword
Link pulling the Master Sword from its resting place.

The story is more engaging not only because it has good characters, but because you have to work for it.  The Master Sword is a better prize now that you’re not required to find it.  The game didn’t build me up, I built myself up.  I fail a lot.  Sometimes I get frustrated, but that’s part of the joy.  This game makes a triumphant return to the spirit of exploration and wonder that’s at the root of Zelda.  You obtain rupees, hearts, stamina, and items through exploration.  Then you use them to explore even more.

I don’t know whether or not this is the “best Zelda game of all time.”  It’s a different beast entirely.  But I don’t hesitate to call it great.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild Thoughts

I’m way late to the party for “early impressions” on Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  This bugs me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been excited to talk about this game for a long time.  Of course, it had to come out when my college midterms were in full force.  And then I came down with a fever.

Nevertheless, life…uh…finds a way.  I’ve played this game for quite a few hours now.  Breath of the Wild is like a game from the 1980s but still chock-full of modern design aspects.  So far the story has very little bearing on the experience, but that’s not to say it’s a bad story.  The voice acting is top-notch, and I like the fact that it’s an extension of another story.  You start knowing that you were once a great hero.   Starting from the literal bottom of the food chain feels more interesting that way.

That’s something I love and hate about this game — when I say you start at the bottom of the food chain, I really mean it.  You start with no clothes and a tree branch as your only weapon.  Granted, this changes pretty fast as you start completing shrines to gain Sheikah slate abilities and gathering materials to use and sell.  It doesn’t change the fact that you’re constantly working with very limited resources.  BotW is as much a survival game as an adventure game.  Every fight is more than a challenge, it’s an investment of resources.  You almost always come away breaking some weapons and losing some health, which means you have to eat some food to recover.  Everything from the Hylian Shield to the Master Sword can break in a fight (although they either regenerate or can be re-bought)

Enemy encounters are extremely stressful, until you obtain mostly indestructible items (which I personally haven’t yet).  Exploration, on the other hand, is an absolute joy.  You can climb anything given you find the right ledges and use jumps properly.  Then using the paraglider, you can convert huge vertical distance into huge horizontal distance.  Granted, you don’t want to go venturing into the furthest territories of Hyrule too early in the game.  Otherwise you’ll get destroyed, same as in the very first Legend of Zelda.

The cooking system is fantastically detailed and useful, although I should mention that the only way to combine ingredients to cook meals and elixirs is using a cooking pot, which can only be found in towns and certain encampments.  As I said, these are the only way to restore health.  You have to take advantage of the time when you’re able to use a pot.

This is just another of many extreme changes to the Zelda formula that Breath of the Wild creates.  Overall, do I like these changes?  I’m not sure.  Some are incredible — the amount of mobility you have in this gorgeous world is masterful.  But the fact that there’s so little you can rely on is a blessing and a curse.  A lot of times you’ll curse the game for being unfair.  The next minute, you’ll value the fact that you worked hard for your success.  Zelda has now shown that it doesn’t have to be the kind of game that delivers you an experience, and that’s important after Skyward Sword.  Then I go back and play a focused game like Twilight Princess.  And I kind of find myself missing that style.

My feelings on this game will probably change as I get further into it.  I will acknowledge that Breath of the Wild is masterful, just as the  reviewers are saying.  But it’s going to have to do even better to be my favorite Zelda.

My Thoughts on E3 2016, Part 3: Nintendo

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Nintendo’s E3 presentation was in good hands with Reggie Fils-Aime at the helm!

I had no idea what to expect from Nintendo going into E3 2016.  Although a few interesting titles like Paper Mario: Color Splash or Ever Oasis spiced up Nintendo’s showing, a whole lot was riding on Pokemon Sun and Moon and Zelda for Wii U/NX to make allow the Big N to keep up with the frankly stellar performances of its competitors.  And yet somehow, they managed to deliver despite having only two games, a true example of what JonTron termed the “Nintendo hadoken.”

Let me lead with the one I’m less excited about, and that is Pokemon Sun and Moon.  There are a lot of steps forward being taken in this game that I love.  For one thing, I love the enhanced 3D models and the fact that you can see 3D models of whatever trainers you’re fighting.  The fact that Zygarde is coming back into play with different levels of power has me stoked – finally this guy is getting the attention he deserves.  The Battle Royal mode is also fascinating, and adds an interesting new dimension to a battle system that’s been normally trainer vs. trainer until now.  The new Alola region is also gorgeous, home to some pretty cool looking new Pokemon, and the legendaries are amazing, although I’m most excited about Magearna for its Steel/Fairy typing.

But the big money is coming from the true reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  I’m going to just say it, this game looks lit.  I genuinely think BotW is going to set the standard for Zelda in the years to come.  I’ve never seen an installment take this many risks since Wind Waker, and in my view, it trumps even that game pretty cleanly in terms of innovation and variety.  We see a level of freedom that hasn’t been seen since the first ever Zelda, tempered by many inspirations in between like Elder Scrolls and Shadow of the Colossus.

This game gives you the bare minimum story context before letting you loose on the overworld, an overworld TWELVE times larger than the one seen in Twilight Princess, one of the largest the series has seen to date.  You can climb, hunt, forage, cook, fight, ride, pick up weapons and armor to suit the environment…this game allows the player to do leagues more than Zelda has ever allowed before.  Top that with improved physics, gorgeous art style, and a dynamic story wherein the player can complete the game without learning much of anything about the world, or get the full experience by exploring.  Throw in some amiibo compatibility, including using the Wolf Link amiibo to make the wolf your temporary companion, and you have a nostalgia arrow that’ll go directly to my heart.

All I’m really left hoping for is that this game has a rich offering of sidequests.  Previous entries like Majora’s Mask had excellent sidequests that were extremely rewarding for how they gave unique, unpredictable items that proved useful in different situations.  Other games, like Twilight Princess especially, had sidequests that were entertaining in large part because of interesting characters and missions that took you all across the overworld.  In an overworld as large as Breath of the Wild’s, I hope to see sidequests taken to a new level – I want to see mysteries and interesting questlines, huge battles and cool gear.  Also, as a last mention, I hope the classic green hat and tunic are at least possible to find somewhere in the game.  But if this game is able to fill its shoes, it will redefine one of the most iconic series of all time, maybe even beating out Twilight Princess as my favorite in the series.  It was unquestionably the game of the show for me, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Oddworld’s Immersive Design

The classic logo for Oddworld! (Photo: DeviantArt)
The classic logo for Oddworld! (Photo: DeviantArt)

Oddworld was a huge part of my childhood.  And sure, it’s easy to get attached to something you see a lot as a kid.  But my love for the series goes beyond the fact that I used to play it with my family.  It fascinated me, and that fascination held through the years.  The reason it’s on my mind now is because of the recent release of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty.  It’s a head-to-toe remake of the first game in the series, on Wii U.

Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! (Photo: DeviantArt)
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty! (Photo: DeviantArt)

After so much time away from the series, I wondered if it would still have the same appeal.  It absolutely did.  So much so that I knew I had to talk about it.

But I don’t just want to talk about the game plainly.  I also want to touch on the things that the creators of Oddworld do so well to make it a unique experience.  The Oddworld series mixes up its design from entry to entry.  But any game designer stands to learn a lot from how Oddworld Inhabitants, the team behind the series, does things.

Oddworld Inhabitants, the company behind every Oddworld game to date! (Photo: DeviantArt)
Oddworld Inhabitants, the company behind every Oddworld game to date! (Photo: DeviantArt)

The most significant thing about Oddworld to me is that it redefined what it means for a game to be ‘cinematic.’  Nowadays, a lot of developers seek to make their games more realistic-looking.  It’s a common assumption that being cinematic means being a spectacle.  The error here is that movie-quality realism isn’t always necessary for an interactive medium.  The emphasis is supposed to be on the player’s relationship with the game.  The game’s relationship with real life is fairly unimportant.

The way I see it, the goal that these developers are trying to achieve is best accomplished by making their games immersive.  And I know ‘immersive’ is an overly broad term, it’s like ‘fun.’  But I think of it as  transporting a player’s senses in the way only a game can.  And this, my friends, is where Oddworld shines.

To talk about this, I reached out to my friend Everett Aldrich. He’s a talented artist working both in 2D design and 3D cinematics.  He’s also done a lot of projects involving fantasy (one of his self-stated fields of interest).  I decided to ask him about how he thought audio-visual aesthetics play into creating a unique game.  He and I agreed that such attention to design is crucial to putting a game over the top.  “If you only make a nice video or game, then that’s cool, but it’s most likely just going to sit there,” said Everett.  “If you create this dynamic, eye-catching piece of promotional art or character renders or something, then you have a better shot at reaching out to more people.”

In its first couple of games, the makers of Oddworld focused strongly on making smooth, realistic cutscenes.  These went a long way towards selling the world.  But more importantly, they also made the in-game environments feel real.

The game reaches out and touches the player instead of just looking realistic.  It delivers seamless, dynamic transitions from cutscenes to gameplay, as well as atmospheric music that compliments each environment perfectly.   On top of that, clever gameplay elements keep the game constantly fresh.  Whistling passwords to progress through the lands of Mudokon natives, or running through gauntlets of deadly traps on the back of an Elum (read it backwards) steed enrich the quirky, funny, mystical, unpredictable world of oddness that the player is adventuring through.

I could go on and on about how the early Oddworld games are brilliantly constructed.  But what also deserves mention is how the even more brilliant Oddworld Inhabitants managed to completely change the formula and story for the fourth installment in the series, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, yet integrate the same tone perfectly to create a similarly amazing experience.  Although the gameplay was entirely different, with a cheesy Western theme and much more badass run-and-gun style, it lives up to its namesake.  So what is it that Oddworld does that lets it transcend genres like this?

Stranger, the Bounty hunting hero of Stranger's Wrath! (Photo: DeviantArt)
Stranger, the Bounty hunting hero of Stranger’s Wrath! (Photo: DeviantArt)

Oddworld offers what few games effectively offer in my experience: the feeling of being on a journey.  Despite being mostly linear with only a few branching paths here and there, the tone of most Oddworld games is consistent.  Through everything from sound to narrative, playing it feels like being part of a myth in action.  In fact, during an interview, series creator Lorne Lanning said of a canceled Oddworld title in development: “I wanted to play off of myths that lie deep in our history of civilization, one of those dynamic, eternal battles, like good versus evil, which forms the basis for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.”

And truly, never while playing Oddworld have I been fully aware that I’m playing a video game.  The experience has always been so engrossing that it becomes more like a temporary way of life.  The visuals use color and light to create magnificent atmosphere.  The sound design is a paragon of its craft.  Its soundtrack is far from traditional, but excels in that it’s perfect in the context of the medium.  It blends different types of instruments and creates sounds that feel like part music and part background noise.

When I asked Everett about the importance of audio compared to visuals, he said from experience that audio has a lot to offer.  “It adds so much life to your video game or film,” he said.  “It may have more importance than visuals actually.  I mean, you have some really nice games that don’t require breathtaking visuals, but they do have an engaging musical score.”  And sure enough, the mechanical tones and sound effects that play when sneaking through a factory, or the simplistic natural beats laid over the perilous wilds of Oddworld suck the player in such a way that it’s hard not to be continually awe-stricken by the world you’re in.

I feel there’s a lot to be learned from games like Oddworld.  Its parts not only work together, but enhance each other to amount to an extraordinary whole.  The visuals drive home the gameplay, the gameplay compliments the music, and so on.  Its combination of smart design, relentless creativity, and a good sense of humor creates something timeless.  In any case, I’ve noticed it makes for an unforgettable game.

To wrap up this delightful ramble down memory lane, I encourage those with an interest in game design, graphic design, or even just in a magical experience, to give Oddworld a try.  More and more odd goodness is being created all the time, with a remake of Abe’s Exoddus entitled Oddworld: Soulstorm coming in late 2017, which will apparently deepen the lore even more than the original.  This has me insanely excited, and if it means more people get a taste of one of my favorite game series of all time, that gives me all the more reason to be.

New Games Leaked: Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon!

Some new rumors have surfaced in anticipation of the Pokemon-themed Nintendo Direct on Friday, February 26th – namely that a 7th generation of games entitled Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon is to be announced as part of the broadcast.

Although this hasn’t been confirmed (and won’t be until the Direct at 10:00 AM / 7:00 AM PST), the leak is in the form of seemingly legitimate trademark information discovered by Nerdleaks revealing the titles of the game and even showing off highly polished logos.

A seventh Pokemon generation seems to be coming at the right time as Nintendo releases a new wave of Pokemon titles as a jumping off point into their next console generation.  It should also serve as an excellent promotion for the spinoff title Pokken Tournament, coming to Wii U on March 18th.

As for my thoughts on all this, I like the idea of another generation with elemental and maybe even mystical theming.  Some individual Pokemon like Solrock, Lunatone, and the legendary Cresselia are based on the sun and moon, and I think there’s a lot of potential there, stylistically and otherwise.

I likely won’t be getting myself any of the next generation games, unless some irresistible changes to the formula come with them (I already filled up the whole Gen 6 Pokedex, so don’t be judging me), but I do have a theory from the game alone.  I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Sun and Moon types were added to the already extensive list of types in place.

After all, Fairy type was introduced in Pokemon X and Y, much to the joy and/or frustration of many, so this seems like a prime moment for new type additions, especially if new Pokemon are created specifically to be put in these categories.  Even if the hardcore players are forced to tweak their precious metagame all over again.

No matter what happens, I’ll be fairly stoked if a new Pokemon generation is announced, and especially happy if it plans to bring a lot to the table in terms of enriching an already amazing franchise.  I’ll be keeping right on top of this broadcast on the official Nintendo Direct website, so until then, stay frosty!

Splatoon is the Cool Older Sibling of Shooters

I saw this post one time that told a weird truth about game demographics.  We think of adults playing Call of Duty while little kids play Pokemon, but it’s usually the other way around.  We think we have it all figured out, but the kinds of people who play certain games are usually different than we think.  These days the silliest, most self-aware games have the most thought put into them.  Let’s talk about Splatoon.

My love for shooters mostly stopped with the Star Wars Battlefront games (not the new EA trash, the old ones).  I think my problem was that the industry fell into a pattern of what shooters “should” be.  Shooters are straightforward, and once you have a formula, they’re relatively easy to crank out.  Why do you suppose there are so many Battlefields and Call of Duty games?  Throw in team or free-for-all deathmatch mode and you have a guaranteed base of happy customers.

Only a few shooters have changed up the formula, and a lot of them are on PC.  Games like Overwatch and its spiritual predecessor Team Fortress 2 were daring.  They shift the entire focus of the gameplay to teamwork and achieving a set objective.  It’s no surprise that these games get the highest praise across the board.  Now, you might wonder why I bring these up when I’m supposed to be talking about Splatoon.  But in order to get what I say about Splatoon you need to understand why these other shooters are popular.

So what is it about Overwatch or TF2 that makes them interesting?  Well on the surface you can say they have lots of personality.  They have great dev teams, and unique casts of characters that all play differently.  But on a deeper level, they also have learning curves and objective-based play.  This has two important implications:

1) Players who want to focus on getting kills and mastering their character have plenty of room to improve.  This is important for appealing to that hardcore, thrill-seeking player base.

2) Players who just want to have a good time can still contribute.  Having robust objective-based play means that you don’t have to have amazing twitch-timing to contribute to your team.

Thanks to these two things, these team shooters offer something for everybody.  I’d say this is why they have so much appeal.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear me say that I love Splatoon and Splatoon 2 because they tick both of these boxes.  You can find your niche and become a monster with any weapon, given enough strategy and practice.  But if you’re new or you just wanna goof around, you can be MVP on your team just by covering enemy ink.  That’s not easy to do by itself.  But Splatoon takes it to a whole new level.

Splatoon 2 has over a dozen stages, and get this: they’re all symmetrical.  I never realized this until I saw LambHoot’s video about it, but in every match of Splatoon, the two teams are placed on a completely even playing field.  Each map has so much uneven terrain, different vantage points, and options for cover that I never even noticed.  If you lose, you can’t use the excuse that you got the worse side of the map.

Surely there must be OP weapons, though, right?  Yeah, some of them are a bit user-friendly, but any team is beatable on paper. There are no “tiers” of weapons, only different types and different loadouts.  For example, two rollers might be the same, but have different sub weapons and special weapons.  This is just meant to encourage experimentation (compare this to EA’s method of randomly giving players equipment they don’t want).  Victory all comes down to adaptation, player skill, and a little bit of luck.

What sets Splatoon apart more than anything else is how the front of battle is created completely by the players.  Moving over ground is really only useful for strafing in combat.  You want to always be swimming through your own color of ink, but so much as touching the other color will hold you up.  Getting splatted can happen so quickly, and Splatoon is such a game of seconds that one player losing a firefight can completely turn the tide of a match.

And so each player always has to make the decision to either hold down their own line, or try to sneak behind enemy lines to create a distraction.  But behind enemy lines, you have to deal with enemy players and being stranded in enemy ink.  If you pull it off, though, you can completely change the battleground.  It’s this push-and-pull of every fight that makes Splatoon so much fun to me.  One player can make the difference in a match, but without teamwork, the odds get steep.  That’s the essence of an awesome team shooter.

And man, let me tell you, this game makes me so angry and so happy.

When I lose in Splatoon, it’s the most angry I ever get at a video game.  But winning feels so ding-dang rewarding.  It’s funny how I can get pummeled by a skilled player in one match, then they end up on my team and suddenly we’re steamrolling the other team together.  That’s the kind of thing that’s rare in other shooters, and it’s something that small teams and skill-based play allow for.

So much effort goes into piling content into shooters nowadays.  Microtransactions, pre-order bonuses, and generally useless nonsense really do look like kid stuff compared to games like Splatoon.  You wanna talk about Call of Duty: WW2 and its advanced weapon tokens as pre-order bonuses?  Splatoon don’t give a damn.  You don’t get to buy gear with money.  You want weapons, you gotta get your hands dirty, level up, and earn your money from matches.  If you suck, you gotta put the work in.

Splatoon oozes quirky personality, hip-hop vibes, and love for its home country of Japan.  I spend half my time playing and the other half buying coordinated clothes and meming with in-game posts.  These are what I always tell people about, but I keep coming back to Splatoon because it’s a fundamentally solid game.  It looks and acts silly as hell, but it won’t treat you that way.  That’s why it’s my favorite shooter.